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A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

May 22, 2008

There seems to be yet another translation out on the market. However, this one is not buy a Bible scholar or group of scholars working together. Rather the Ancient Roots Translinear Bible (ARTB) is by one layperson (A. Frances Werner) and her desire to translate every word the same in every context. Proving again that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

In the press release, Werner is quoted as saying:

“If you look at the top 100 Hebrew words used in the Old Testament, you’ll find that only one or two words are used 100% consistently in the bestselling bibles. That means that when you are reading, you can never be sure that you are following the original Hebrew without consulting another reference book,” says A. Frances Werner.

On the official website Werner describes her methodology as such:

The Translinear method was born from a detailed scientific analysis of several bible versions… The light went on for me when I realized that the reason we needed things like cross-references and Interlinear bibles because none of the bibles that had been published to date were close enough to the original language. They have extra words, are missing many unique words, and were not utilizing English consistently with the original language. So all the classic bible study tools were needed to find out what the ancient text really said.

Notice the language: All translations are missing parts of the real Bible. No translation tells you what the Bible really says. Only this book will really give you the keys to the Kingdom.

This would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that honest people are going to buy this thing thinking that it’s what the Bible “really” says without realizing it’s based on a poor (or even no) understanding of how translation actually works.

(HT Claude Mariottini)

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2008 10:38 am

    Wow. In first year Hebrew I used to get a laugh out of always translating ישב as “sit,” it produced some highly amusing results at times, but hardly captured the full semantic range of the verb. I’d sort of like to pick this translation up just to see how anyone could make sense of anything when only using one definition.

  2. May 22, 2008 2:26 pm

    That’s a little knowledge in the Biblical sense that’s a dangerous thing, right? 🙂

  3. May 14, 2009 11:04 pm

    Glad to hear I’m dangerous.
    Seriously. . . my goal has been to restore the full biblical Hebrew vocabulary. Have you read the Ancient Roots Translinear Bible (ARTB)?

    Calvin jokes about the word “sit” which is Strong’s number 3427. It is not “sit” in ARTB, but “dwell”. Take a look at all the times it occurs by going to my website, http://www.AncientRoots.com, and going to “ARTB Bible Search” and typing in 3427. Evaluate whether the word “dwell” is appropriate. Let me know if there’s a better word.

    A. Frances Werner

    • May 15, 2009 9:15 pm

      Thanks for stopping by. The problem that I and others have with your project is that there is no such thing as a one-to-one correlation between ancient Hebrew and modern English. You can’t simply take a word in Hebrew and consistently drop the same English word in over and again and have it make sense. No two languages have that tight a correlation.

      So when you ask if there is a better word for ישב than “dwell” the answer you’re going to get is “better where?” Obviously when the context is a king ישב-ing on a throne, I’d say “sitting” would be better than “dwelling” in English, since we sit on chairs in English, we don’t dwell on/in/upon them.

      Hope that explains things a bit.

      • May 27, 2009 9:56 am

        As a scientist, I certainly appreciate your understanding of correlation. And I know that expecting one-to-one correspondence is nuts, and certainly not where I started.

        What caused me to ask the question was the analysis that I did on the vocabulary of 20 translations. When I started, I would have expected approximately 90-95% correspondence between English and Hebrew–certainly giving translators “wiggle room” to provide better meaning in appropriate cases (like throne, as you mention above). But I was very surprised that the major versions were only between 50-75% consistent in their application of English to Hebrew. Paraphrase versions generally were 25-50%.

        That also may not have surprised me if the Hebrew vocabulary was very small in comparison to the English vocabulary. (Which is what I thought originally.) But quite the opposite is true–most English versions are missing significant amounts of Hebrew vocabulary. Most people don’t care that their version misses 6 words for “lion”, but important desert-culture words like “oasis” are missing.

        Rather than argue the point theoretically (the data are presented in my book “Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Surprising Bias in the Old Testament”), I decided to demonstrate the gap by creating “Ancient Roots Translinear Bible (ARTB)”. It is specifically named TRANSLINEAR, because it is not a TRANSLATION per se.

        Enough on my end. Are you surprised at the poor correlation between the English and Hebrew? Or is it what you expected?
        Thanks for your time.

        • November 27, 2009 4:05 am

          The word yashev, coming from the root shev to sit, can also be used not only for a king on his throne, but also for dwell, that is, to live in a certain place, to put down roots, etc. There is also a connection with the word shevah meaning seven, meaning the seventh day, meaning “Shabat, or Sabbath”, meaning to rest or sit, on the seventh day etc. as the Torah says in Beresheet, or Genesis. And I’ll bet there are many more.

  4. May 26, 2010 1:32 pm

    These comments are from a lay-person’s perspective. I have a link to Ancient Roots on my Google homepage and I am enjoying it very much. My husband is a what I would call a lay-scholar and I learn on a weekly basis from both him and another Hebrew-reading lay-scholar of the many quirks in our current translations and versions of scripture. In my curiousity about the author of this translinear book, I ran across this page and it’s critique.

    My only concern, so far, about what I’ve read is the assumption made at the very beginning…just after the misspelled word “buy” (instead of the proper word “by”). It seems that the author is devalued on the grounds that the she is not a ‘Bible scholar or group of scholars working together’, by that I believe you mean as having a post graduate degree from a reputable institution.

    This formal academic arrogance could very possibly be WHY we have the inaccuracies that we do today. It only causes me to assume that the author of this unique book may be rattling some cages that have long needed rattled. My lay-scholars consistently prove to me on a regular basis that passion and logical analysis of the data often trump academic pursuit of such a wonderful text.

    I urge you to justify your perception of another’s work on data, as you have in the discussion with the author, and this will or will not convince those who are genuinely searching for truth. Thank you for taking the time to consider my simple thoughts.

    • May 26, 2010 5:08 pm

      Rebecca,

      Good catch on the typo. This post has been sitting here for two years, you are the first to note it. I’d like to say it’s a simple mistake, but I’m betting there was probably a parapraxis (Freudian slip) involved.

      Regardless, I wouldn’t equate “Bible scholar” with a post-graduate degree from a reputable institution. There are some amazing translators and scholars who don’t have their “papers” as it were. The fine folks at Wycliff come to mind.

      I do think that if you are going to claim (as the author did on her website and press release) that your version of the Bible is the only real version, you had better at least have some knowledge of the source languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). A. Frances Werner has none.

      Her system of translation is to create one-to-one relationships between Hebrew and English. This violates one of the cardinal rules of translation: CIE (context is everything). Words aren’t individual bits of data that exist independently. They are intimately dependent on other words around them to help trigger what they mean.

      Additionally, their is the question of the development of the language. The Hebrew Bible was written over a period of roughly a thousand years (if you date Exod 15 early and Daniel late, as most scholars do). Trying to have the same meaning for words over such a vast time is difficult. Granted, there is more consistency in Hebrew than in English. The “Song of the Sea” would probably have sounded more like Chaucer than Beowulf to the writer of Daniel. However, theses sorts of changes are inherent in language.

      Along the same lines, the Hebrew Bible exhibits regional dialects and authorial idiosyncrasies. For example, parts of Samuel and Kings (and Hosea) might exhibit a Norther Kingdom dialect. Similarly, the author of Ecclesiastes uses the word “hebel” in idiosyncratic ways; hence the range of possible translations and variation from the use of the word in other biblical books where it usually translated as “wind” or “breath.” Such differences are often important for understanding what an author is saying. Imposing a definition of a word based on how it was used hundreds of years and hundreds of miles removed from a text can cause the author’s meaning to be obscured.

      I should also note that variants in translation and meaning in various versions of the Bible running around today are less an issue of “inaccuracies” and more of the suppleness of human speech. ALL translation is interpretation. This in some ways is why most translations are done by committees. Generally they are either ecumenical groups trying to find a common translation as free from bias as they can (NRSV is one example) or they are a group from a particular heritage trying to translate the text in accordance with their theological perspective (the NIV would probably be closer to this). Such groups will not produce the same translation, but each will be more free of individual bias than a translation done by a committee of one.

      Then again, all of this assumes the basic premise that the Bible was written by people living over a vast amount of time in a vast number of circumstances and cultures, and that these different contexts have left a mark on how they wrote. If your personal theological convictions are something to the contrary (e.g. a dictation theory of inspiration or the like), then a more exotic translation method such as that posed by the ARTB might be right up your alley. Indeed, in the more than two years since I wrote this post, I’ve come to suspect that it was probable such a theological assumption (rather than a scientific disposition) that lead to A. Frances Werner’s project. This is not demean her, but rather to state that we are asking the Bible to do very different things.

  5. May 26, 2010 11:29 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful explanation of your critique in greater detail. I must admit that I cracked up when I got to the line…”Additionally, their is the question of the development of the language. ” I must apologize for my years of red-lining my youngest son’s writings! “There” is a question… 🙂

    It is also entertaining to me that we ran across another instance of questionable wording in the text. Num 10:36 – Literally…Return, Adonai of the many, many thousands of Israel (NIV incorrect). Would you mind terribly using this as an example of what you are attempting to clarify for me? It seems the placement of even a comma can change the entire meaning of the sentence.

    This is very unnerving for me to find so many small pieces of scripture that are represented as something totally different than what the Hebrew reveals.

    • May 27, 2010 5:37 pm

      Num 10:35-36 is a strange text. Like Exod 15, it seems to be a really early poetic fragment. The phrase you are referring to is problematic, and the best dictionaries are split or tentative on a translation of the term here.

      So, with that little bit of couching, here’s my take. The term that is “many, multitude” in Num 10:36 shows up in 1 Sam 18: 7 “Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” It’s on the basis of it’s context in 1 Sam 18:7 that you can get (as the NRSV does) “ten thousand thousands” in Num 10:36.

      Given the poetic nature of the text, some translations play it a little looser (e.g. the NIV’s “countless thousands”). The NIV invokes the “bigness” of the poetic line and generally conforms to the dynamic equivalence translation model that the NIV uses (“thought for thought” rather than “word for word”). I’m not sure I would call it something completely different than the Hebrew, but it is obviously less wooden.

      I’m wondering, have you ever looked at the NETBible? It’s a translation that gives mostly translation notes rather than study notes. Very nice if you find often find yourself wondering why translations render the text differently. (The notes on Song of Songs are huge!) As a lay reference it is quite useful. I might not always agree with the choices that the NET translators make, but they are quite good at explaining their decisions in the notes. (Oddly enough, they don’t really mention anything on Num 10:36.)

      Hope this helps.

  6. May 27, 2010 11:22 pm

    I had not considered the wording of the ‘thousands’. Thank you for explanation of what I had not thought to question. Can you explain the particular difference that I noticed Wednesday night…how it is worded in the Hebrew vs. NIV.

    Hebrew – NU 10:36 …Return, Adonai of the many, many thousands of Israel

    NIV – NU 10:36 Whenever it came to rest, he said, “Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel.”

    The question that sparked the discussion was whether the Lord had LEFT the countless thousands of Israel so that He had to RETURN to the countless thousands of Israel. The scripture is surrounded by the telling of what looked like a cloud by day and a fire by night…the presence of the Lord…and the lifting of the ‘cloud’ which directed the people of Israel to break camp and follow. It seemed to me that the Lord never left them during those times. He simple gave them something to follow, thus the wording confused me in the NIV.

    When they, being my favorite lay-scholars, translated directly from their Hebrew texts it revealed the true structure of the sentence to be shifted. All of the sudden, the text is giving the Lord the TITLE of ‘Adonai of the many, many thousands of Israel’.

    What are your thoughts?

  7. November 27, 2011 3:02 pm

    Although I am late to this discussion I find a response might be meaningful. Since God speaks all languages and translates every word into the message we need to hear at the time we are reading He overrides human error. Considering one is working in His name, I believe that His blessings are over each work and that work would have purpose whether we get it absolute; scientifically or grammatically. God Bless Our Efforts!!!!

    • Rebecca Smith permalink
      November 27, 2011 11:35 pm

      A hearty “amen” to that one! 🙂

  8. Brad Snyder permalink
    September 20, 2012 9:58 pm

    I own both the OT version of the ARTB and the NT version. I find it useful in forcing my mind to try to think Hebraicly. There is no such thing as a perfect translation in my estimation. Although I am one of your “laymen” I study hard and seek the best understanding from the perspective of the authors. I have purchased many and varied scriptures in pursuit of this goal. The ARTB is another good tool in my library and I appreciate the work that went into it. I am looking forward to the Strong’s linked book that Ms. Werner is working on now. If all of the so called scholars would spend some time creating a good true to the original language copy of scripture we would all benefit. In the mean time I applaud Ms Warner for putting in the effort.

  9. Mary Murphy permalink
    January 1, 2013 8:25 pm

    Currently reading through ARTB pondering the assumption and basic premise that the Bible was written by people living over a vast amount of time in a vast number of circumstances and cultures, and that these different contexts have left a mark on how they wrote.I decided that the ARTB could very well be the best work on translation. I am sure that at that point in time language as words was limited and as time past more meanings may have been added to already established words, or not.. Whatever, I feel that the lack of wordiness is more indicative of the culture at the time.and is a more pleasant read. Thanks A Frances Werner

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